Google exec Sally-Ann Williams tapped to lead Cicada Innovations — and she plans to take the secretive incubator out of the shadows

Sally-Ann Williams (image supplied)
  • Tech incubator Cicada Innovations has announced Sally-Ann Williams as its new CEO, commencing July 1.
  • Williams is currently an executive program manager at Google Australia & New Zealand.
  • The incoming CEO told Business Insider Australia she plans to shine a spotlight on the work of “hidden gem” Cicada Innovations.

Cicada Innovations is a company that doesn’t shy away from ambition. Among the projects it is currently working on, incoming CEO Sally Ann Williams is focused on thorny topics such as sustainable food production and cancer treatment.

While Williams is happy to talk topics, you’re not likely to get many more specifics out of her, at least not just yet. And that’s because the “deep tech” incubator is notoriously tight-lipped about the tech innovations under its care.

But that may be about to change, Williams — who will commence in the role on 1 July and spent the last 12 years at Google — told Business Insider Australia.

“Cicada is a hidden gem in our ecosystem and I want to help amplify the success that has already been achieved and find new ways to grow that further,” Williams said.

“For me it’s about the team as well as the projects. Tech is great, but it gets really exciting when you can see the potential impact on the lives of people.”

She said her experience as a decade-long ‘Googler’ makes her uniquely well-placed to work with startup founders and empathise with their “daily challenges”.

“Being part of growing Google in the early days has been an incredible experience,” she said. “When I started we were lean and scrappy and going through a stage of explosive growth.

“You didn’t know from one day to the next what new challenges would be coming your way and the way to thrive was to work together to solve them. Not dissimilar to the startup experience.”

As a Google exec, Williams had responsibility for “engineering, community and outreach” which involved working with universities, schools and, importantly, governments.

With tech leaders calling for a greater focus on innovation from the Scott Morrison government in the wake of the election, it is experience she will likely put to use on behalf of the startups incubating at Cicada.

“Continuing to invest in blue skies research is critical,” she said. “Creating a framework that makes it easy for industry to invest in research and development and take some risks in new development can lead to new economic opportunities nationally for Australia.

“Raising the visibility of those who are doing this and helping remove frictions on the pathway is critical.”

It seems it’s not only the innovators being incubated at Cicada’s Sydney offices whose profile Williams wants to raise.

READ MORE: 4 startups at a top secret Sydney ‘super-incubator’ you’ve never heard of.

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